When most people hear the word “violin”, they think of prim and proper folks in suits, dresses, and hosiery. Violins are supposed to play “symphonies” and “sonatas” and “concertos. They’re supposed to play seated in a chamber group or standing on stage with a piano accompanist. But something happened during the past 100 years of music history…
Truth be told, there has always been an underground movement of music that found violins playing folk, gypsy, and other local fair. This was the “people’s music”. This was the movement that began the slow change of popular music from something you got dressed up for to something that fit how you were dressed.
From violin to fiddle, and beyond…
I’m talking about music genres like fiddle music, jazz, contemporary atonal music, and rock n’ roll. These are genres that began to take the violin in a totally different direction. Head-banging, foot-stomping, and finger snapping are hallmarks of these very physical displays of music that have now revolutionized our tired old notions of what a violin should play.
And here we come to the topic at hand. I was surfing youtube the other day when I came across a very talented group of musicians who call themselves the “Zac Brown Band”. They write and record their own original music that is very creative and well-performed. But this video is one in which they covered an extremely famous heavy metal song called Enter “Sandman” by the band called Metallica.
Rocking and bowing
If you haven’t yet heard the original version of this song, I encourage you to listen to it here. It’s going to give you context on how well Zac Brown Band pulled this off. The violin solo is the main event for us. It begins at 3:36 and ends at 4:20. However, the whole song is great if you’re a fan of the genre. For the Zac Brown Video, scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Playing music of the metal genre on the violin requires us to think a little differently. It uses it’s own unique scales and chord structures. It requires us to think of a more aggressive, raunchy, playing style. The violin does not naturally make this sound on it’s own, but the technique involved with playing this music doesn’t change. In other words, our posture, form and technique of playing the instrument doesn’t require modification if we’ve been properly trained. The violinist performing this song started out training in the classical tradition.
How to get the sound
The violin solo has some sound effects placed on it to give it that heavy metal feel. The most prominent ones are distortion, a little reverb, a little delay, and a Wah pedal. If you’re looking to match the tone that Jimmy De Martini, the fiddle/violin player is producing, you’re going to need to know a little more about how he’s doing it. Let’s get a run down of what Jimmy could be using.
There’s a couple of ways to achieve that distortion grit that Jimmy’s got going on. It’s not overpowering, so we know it’s not a massive metal bone-crushing maxed out gain. It’s something much softer. You can accomplish this one of two ways. First, you could use an overdrive or distortion pedal on a medium or low setting, respectively. The next is you could use an amplifier that either has breakup ability in the tubes, or has a channel for “drive”/“gain”.
“Drive” is probably going to be more along the lines of our usage. Another term some amplifiers use to describe the type of grit we want is “soak”. Either way, you probably don’t want one that is designated for heavy metal because I’ve found that the gain produced from those amplifiers and their tubes requires a lot of EQing to keep it from sounding muddy on the violin.
The next is reverb. Again, we’re not overpowering our sound with this, but we want just enough to carry. This is going to make us sound like we have more presence and add that touch of “epicness” to our sound, so don’t set it too high, but just enough to be heard.
Again, we can use pedals to accomplish this or we can use the reverb found on our amplifiers. There are definitely differences in reverbs. They’re not all created equal. For the most part, find what you like best and go with it. Or alternatively, simply use one that you already have. This will all depend on whether or not you’re playing performances regularly or if you’re just enjoying the tune at home.
Delay is going to be a lot like reverb when used here on our violin. We want it to be present, but not overpowering. If you’ve never used delay before, think of it like an echo. You don’ want the echo to keep running loudly. You want it to be barely perceptible and for it to have a relatively quick decay, for this song.
Like reverb, some amps come with delay while others don’t. Even if your amplifier comes with delay, you may want to use a different pedal due to your personal tastes. Either way is fine.
A wah pedal? On the violin? You bet!
A wah pedal is used throughout the solo with differing flips of the foot. For those new to the wah pedal, it essentially is a foot pedal that allows you to move back and forth between a high EQ and a low EQ. In other words, one way gives you more treble response(high pitches), the other way gives you more bass response(low pitches).
Basically, just push the tip of your foot forward and backwards to achieve the desired EQ. Jimmy goes back and forth with specific timing and specific directions of the pedal in order to achieve his desired sound. If you have a wah pedal already, you’re set. If not, and your amp doesn’t have a wah setting(these tend only to come on digital electric practice amps), then you’ll be looking to purchase one to get Jimmy’s sound.
Violins, virtuosos, and sonic mayhem
Here’s the video. Check it out for yourself and see if it tickles your fancy. It’s a great cover and some say it’s the best metallica cover they’ve ever heard. Whatever your opinion, I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a pretty outside the box way to play the violin. Enjoy!